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EYE ON THE PIE Who says Indiana isn't progressive?:

February 6, 2006

You probably don't know Gary Price and never even heard of him, but he is at the center of important changes in the construction industry. Don't get me wrong; Price is not doing this by himself. He is part of a remarkably progressive set of activities that are demonstrating how social objectives and private interests can be integrated.

Price has an association management company; as such, he is the executive director of several organizations. He specializes in construction-related associations.

The Metropolitan Indianapolis Coalition for Construction Safety (MICCS) is a voluntary program of construction contractors, subcontractors and the people who hire them (the owners or consumers of construction projects). It is dedicated to "the elimination of construction and maintenance accidents, injuries and jobrelated illnesses." Both union and nonunion firms are involved, sitting side by side in the public interest.

Safety reduces costs while preserving lives and careers. The MICCS program, which also operates in Lafayette, helps contractors evaluate their safety programs and provides information to owners on which contractors meet the certification standards of MICCS. There is no coercion, only the knowledge that some are more successfully focused on safety than others.

This safety program is so successful that the Indiana Department of Labor has entered into a unique agreement with MICCS. Now the department will be able to focus its attention on more urgent issues, knowing that MICCS-certified contractors are successful in meeting safety standards.

MICCS has a detailed procedure for drug- and alcohol-abuse testing. This eliminates duplicative abuse programs by establishing a uniform set of standards leading to increased on-site safety. Thus, an owner can set safety standards that contractors agree all their employees will meet. It is cooperation for everyone's benefit.

Today, more than 65,000 workers in central Indiana carry an "MICCS card," indicating they have passed required drug testing. It is a Web-based system; the validity of the cards can be verified in seconds. In a normally divisive industry, MICCS brought all the parties together to agree on this important program.

How many lives have been saved by this program? How many injuries prevented? No one will ever know. We do know MICCS forged a commitment that workers deserve to return home undamaged by a day at work.

Another innovative program was just put into effect by the Indiana Construction Roundtable (ICR), which Price also serves. This is a diversity program based on facts rather than fiction. Up to this point, many "minority" firms have been that in name only. The ICR, another group of construction owners, is setting the bar higher.

Minority firms are those "owned" by African-Americans, Hispanics, women and other "minorities," as determined by governmental entities. That does not mean they employ or encourage the development of skills for minority workers. Observers of these minority firms have been aware of the fraud often involved with the set-asides required by federal standards. Now, in Indianapolis, construction owners are doing something about it. All contractors, union and non-union, working for ICR owners will get points for the extent to which they recruit, employ, train and promote minority workers. A wider concept is being introduced to get real progress for minority involvement and advancement in the construction industry.

This voluntary program allows firms with a social conscience to make a difference while they make money. Eli Lilly and Co., Clarian Health Partners and other ICR members are seeking to create a base of women and minorities who will someday own their own businesses. If the ICR program succeeds, it will be a model for minority-outreach programs throughout the nation.

Price is a lucky man. He works with hard-headed businesspeople, many of whom wear hard hats, who are willing to face the hard issues of our society. And it is happening here in Indiana. When you hear that Indiana is not a progressive state, remember there are people whose actions belie that prejudice. The central Indiana construction industry is one example of a group with its eye on the pie.



Marcus taught economics more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU's Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, send e-mail to mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.
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